x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Elections vital for credibility in the West Bank

Some of the many problems of the Palestinian people could be addressed, if not solved, by new elections. Palestinian leaders are increasing seen as being out of touch.

In the West Bank, Palestinians are questioning the heavy hand of the law. Israel's draconian occupation is an old, if under-reported, story. Yet this time, it is the Palestinian Authority that is in their sights, and with good reason.

The authority of the PA, and by extension of Fatah, which dominates the West Bank administration, has suffered in the past few years. The refusal of Israel's leaders to pursue meaningful peace negotiations, the continued flouting of international law and the ever-expanding settlements all exert pressure. But many Palestinians view PA leaders as too close to the occupation, too corrupt and too concerned with staying in power at the expense of change.

The Arab uprisings loom large. Popular movements have swept several Arab countries. By contrast, Palestinians see, in both the PA and Hamas, leadership that is calcified by old habits.

Recent accusations have lent weight to that perception. As The National reported yesterday, the PA's attorney general, Ahmad Al Mughani, and anti-corruption chief, Rafiq Alnatsheh, have both been accused of abusing their powers. Mr Al Mughani has detained journalists and blocked access to websites that are critical of President Mahmoud Abbas; Mr Alnatsheh appears to be pursuing politically motivated cases against opponents.

In a sense, this is part of a larger story. Since it was established in 1994, the PA has exercised power only under occupation, subject to frequent manipulation by Israeli authorities. In recent years, however, there have been allegations that PA forces have acted as a catspaw of Israel. Since the death of the Jenin district governor, Kadura Musa, who succumbed to a heart attack in May after his residence was shot at by Palestinian militants, the PA has rounded up about 100 Palestinians for questioning. Some of their families accuse the PA of torture.

In the absence of negotiations with Israel, Mr Abbas has suggested dissolving the PA in recognition that the Oslo Accords are dead. What is certain is that, as Israeli settlers make a two-state solution almost impossible, stronger Palestinian leadership is essential. That must involve Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, but also a renewed accountability to their constituency.

Last week in a scathing interview, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told The Washington Post that he remained unconvinced "there is seriousness about elections". The mandates of both the PA and Hamas expired years ago. Until there are new elections - until Palestinians can hold their leaders accountable - the resistance against occupation will always be divided.